Having made their name in the halcyon days of Creation Records thanks to a string of peerless EPs and two of the most influential albums of that and successive generations in Nowhere and Going Blank Again, Ride's legendary status has long been cemented in the annals of rock history.
Although their next two LPs didn't receive the critical acclaim or commercial success of their predecessors, the band's split in 1996 was still widely mourned worldwide. So when the band announced their reunion in 2014 it was heralded as a second coming of sorts, unfinished business even for a band whose creative well hadn't run anywhere near dry.
Fast forward to 2017 and Ride are back with a new album Weather Diaries, their fifth long player and first since Tarantula in 1996. Combining all the best bits from each of its predecessors while retaining one eye on the future, it marks a sensational return for a band written off by many at the height of Britpop two decades ago.
DiS caught up with guitarist and singer Mark Gardener and drummer Loz Colbert prior to their triumphant performance on the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury.
DiS: The reviews for Weather Diaries have been overwhelmingly positive. Were you expecting that kind of feedback?
Mark Gardener: No we didn’t expect anything. Everyone wasn’t positive about Ride before. It’s not something we know but obviously, it’s great so we welcome it.
Loz Colbert: It’s a different time now and we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s just great that after spending so much time making the record people seem to get it and love it. We felt glad to have a chance at getting something right this time because we kind of jumped into our previous studio albums feet first. There was no pressure with this so we’ve just been working quietly in the background for 18 months. When you invest that amount of time into making something it’s great to see people actually starting to get it.
When did the writing process start? Which is the oldest song on the record?
MG: Good question. Bits came from early jams when we first got together in rehearsals. We’d just end up playing and writing music so some ideas came from that. I don’t know which would be the oldest though? ‘All I Want’ maybe?
LC: I think it was probably ‘Cali’.
MG: I honestly don’t remember. We just did loads of bits and pieces around rehearsal time but didn’t really get stuck into it until we’d finished touring. Then we connected a few bits together we thought sounded good. Did some recording before we knew we were going to make a new record. We always knew we did, but once the songs started to materialise it was a case of now we’ve got to record an album. We were well prepped up. We had a lot of stuff flying around between us; some of that stuff made it, some didn’t. There were a lot of ideas at this point.
How many songs did you have to start with? Were there that didn’t make the album which might be revisited in the future?
LC: Yeah we had loads. Around 35, maybe even 40. It was a very tough selection process. It went down to 15 that we were gonna try to do for the album and out of that, 11 made it.
MG: Those 4 that didn’t make it are in better shape, so they might be looked at again, might be permanently shelved. We don’t really know at the moment.
LC: With some we just ran out of time. They’d been selected but we just didn’t have time to finish them and already had an album’s worth ready so who knows, they may come out in some other format at a later date.
You worked with Erol Alkan on this record. How did that come about?
MG: Erol is a good friend of Andy Bell’s brother-in-law. They’ve done a lot of DJing together. James Sandom from our management is also very close to Erol so with him and Andy both having links he was already cited to do a remix or something. There was no masterplan or anything. We actually talked a lot about pushing it through to the end ourselves; we’re all more than capable of doing that. But we were also open to someone else coming in and hopefully taking what we’d got up another few levels.
LC: By the time we came to do this record we’d all done so much separately in our own lives that we were all quite able to produce it ourselves. But what you need is that one vote above everybody to settle it because there are just too many decisions to make. You need one above to say this is what’s going to happen and take it in that direction. So we knew we had to give that up to someone else and Erol felt like the right guy.
MG: You’re closer to the things you’ve given birth to and it’s difficult to retain any sense of objectivity on them. Which is really crucial, so you need to have that trust in the people around you. We learned to trust Erol really quickly. We asked him to come to the studio for a couple of days already knowing which direction we wanted the record to take. Within a couple of days, we knew it was going to be great and working with Erol was totally the right move. He’d pop off at weekends and do his DJ slots which was good because it enabled us time to carry on with the process then he’d come back fresh a couple of days later and go through what we’d done. None of us wanted to go into repetition mode. That’s just not a band any of us want to be in. It was really crucial to come back with a record that sounded like it was made in 2017. It was made now, about now, and should reflect what’s going on now.
LC: There was always a sense of momentum with Erol. Things were always moving forward from the moment we started working with him. It was really good that we didn’t just get that session and stay there for 4 weeks. We had him for 2 days and then he’d disappear and then come back for maybe 3 days. But in-between when he’s Djing he’s connecting with the crowd. His mindset is very much on the connection between people and music. The power of that. And he helped this percolate through into what we were doing whereas if we’d just recorded it over one 4-week block things may have gone a bit stale. We never ever got stale.
MG: Music can make you very secluded. I’ve become very secluded in the past. The work I’ve done with other bands and so on, doing solo shows; that’s quite weird. You get strangely secluded doing music over a period of time. You lose touch with your family and friends, and everyone in the whole wide world in a weird sort of way because all you tend to focus on is the music. Then you gradually come out of that and want to feel part of a group again with people around you.
Now you have the songs off the new record as well, how do you go about choosing a setlist for the live shows? It must be difficult choosing what to leave out?
MG: It’s really difficult, especially choosing festival sets. We usually play for an hour so we’ve pretty much nailed a set for that length of time but then some places like Glastonbury we only get 50 minutes so have to cut it down even further. At the moment we tend to focus one half of the set on the new record and the other half from our back catalogue.
LC: After doing all that touring in 2015 we pretty much nailed what were our set bangers. We know the songs that have to be in and always get a good reaction so we try to build the rest of the set around those. But then we also really want to play the new material and it feels exciting for us to do that. Those songs are like a breath of fresh air and really invigorating so we are aiming to play as many off the new record as possible without them completely dominating the set.
MG: We’re learning every new song so we can play it live and I’d like to think that by the end of the year, every song off Weather Diaries will have featured in the set at some point. We love the new songs. It feels like they’ve brought a whole new energy into the band which is so important. Now it gives us the opportunity to raise the performance up a few notches because we never knew how good these new songs were. It’s easy to just fall into a circle of performing old songs but after a while, that circle becomes ever decreasing. For me, art, work, and music needs to reflect on what’s happening now.
LC: There’s a real time and a place for this record and it’s now. We still love the old stuff as well but it’s exciting to be able to bring these new songs in and hopefully people that come to see us will enjoy them too.
Did those shows from 2015 inspire you to carry on as a band, not to mention introduce a whole new generation of people to Ride’s music?
MG: I think so. We’ve noticed the audiences getting younger as we’ve played more shows, and I think in a way that kind of justifies us coming back and making new music going forwards. I loved those shows in 2015 and I think it gave us our spark back to equal or better those songs with new material. It always had that tinge of being great but we wanted to move forwards.
LC: We’ve given ourselves a bit of breathing space with this record. We’ve expanded our horizons which gives us further breathing space when constructing a setlist as we alluded to earlier, and in a way also keeps fresh for the audiences as well. It opens things up a bit and gives us more room to manoeuvre. It’s a challenge to work out how to play some of the new songs live. We did them in the studio but Ride has always very much been a live band so everything will work out fine, but it’s nice to have that challenge of trying to recreate them. We’re trying out different sounds and approaches and it’s really exciting. We don’t want to limit what we’re about in the studio. We’d rather open up the sound which takes in all the various styles of music we listen to and love. We’re all fans of synthesizers, electronica, and dub. There’s such a broad church that we’re tapping into and where we’re coming from which hopefully makes the whole experience more colourful.
The song I’m really looking to hearing played live is ‘Impermanence’. Has that featured in the set so far?
MG: That hasn’t made it in there yet! It will be.
LC: I guess that is almost a classic Ride song. We nailed that on the second take for the album. Everyone playing together in the studio which is how we used to record back in the day. It’s got that atmosphere, that vibe about it. It’s one of my favourites on the album as well. That will be fine in terms of how we play it live. It’s just that we’ve been focusing on some of the more immediate singles.
Listening to Weather Diaries it could almost be a fusion of your previous four albums in terms of style and structure. Was that something you were subconsciously aiming for?
LC: I think so, yeah. We wanted to make this in a similar way to how we approached Going Blank Again because that was by far our most enjoyable record to make previously. We all wanted to contribute and make it as colourful as possible.
MG: I think you’re right. There are always elements that will come through as being archetypal Ride such as the vocals but then around that we’re always looking to widen our scope.
Are you proud of the legacy Ride have created? For example, Ulrika Spacek who are supporting you later this year are just one of many bands who’ve clearly taken your blueprint and made it into something of their own.
MG: I don’t go around watching bands thinking they’ve obviously listened to us but I’m quite proud of what we’ve achieved. I’m confident about where we could still go in the future and looking back three years ago this may not have happened but now it has everything just feels brilliant. To hear people who saw us back in the day come up to us after some of our recent shows and say this is the best they’ve ever seen or heard us play makes everything so worthwhile. That was the challenge we set ourselves. This band always had the ability to do that and now we have a lot of other variables under control there’s no reason why we can’t continue getting better. I want us to keep growing as a band.
I’d probably agree with that having seen the band many times in the 1990s and more recently, particularly on the Nowhere shows, it does seem as if the band are a lot tighter with everything working in tandem.
MG: We’re far more consistent now. Not just as a band but also as people and I think that’s reflected in how we perform live. And we understand how important that is now compared to when the band first started because every move you make is under scrutiny. Everything seems to be filmed. We know there are people in this industry who think they don’t need to worry about us, see us as just being a heritage act who are all but over but to us we’re the complete antithesis of that. I’m not saying it in an arrogant way. The phone’s never stopped ringing since we started playing again with people wanting to book us for shows. You can theorise about a lot of stuff but there’s no way getting away from the fact our audience has grown and that in itself is a reason for us to keep going. If we weren’t very good we’d be found out straight away. There are so many great bands around now that we’d be left on the wayside almost immediately.
I also think when politics get as dark as they have recently that can rattle everything. It rattles the creatives into coming back with better songs and better music than they’ve ever done. When I hear what bands who were around when we first started are producing now, the new records by Slowdive and The Charlatans for instance, it ranks alongside the best works they’ve ever recorded. I always thought Slowdive were a great band back then even though lots of people seemingly didn’t get it. The music press at the time turned against them like they eventually did with us but you listen back to their albums now and they sound timeless. So, of course their new record was going to be great because they’ve always been great. If anything they’re better now and certainly more consistent in the same way we are.
And the same thing applies to The Charlatans as well. Fair enough, some of the bands that were around back then maybe don’t seem as edgy or interesting as they were which is fine too. I work with a lot of new bands. I’ve just made a record with a great new band from Oxford called Temper Cartel who I think will be the next big band from that city. They’re going from strength to strength which is great because it keeps a band like us on our toes. We know our songs have to be good because there are so many great bands coming through. And rightly so. That’s how it should be.
Do you think an album like Weather Diaries could have been made 20 years ago had the band stayed together?
MG: Not really. We were doing different things back then. We’ve always made very honest records that reflect what’s going on at the time, around us and to us, so I don’t think Weather Diaries could have existed back then. It’s very reflective. There’s a lot of anger and depression in there and in a way we’ve managed to turn all that into something positive. I’m as confused and disturbed as everybody else is at the moment by so-called world leaders. The rise of extremism. It’s like the first line of the record says; ”Seeing is believing, believing is not seeing.” It’s just horrific. What the fuck is going on? I don’t have the answers. No matter how far we’ve advanced in terms of education and technology we still haven’t got past slaughtering each other. Mass slaughter as well and I just think to myself what is that? Ugliness has always been there in the shadows and under the carpet and eventually, it gets defeated every time. There’s a hell of a lot more sound and forward thinking cosmopolitan people in this world than the pockets of idiots responsible for such ugliness.
Do you think an adverse political and social climate often brings out the best in people when it comes to creating art and music?
MG: I do. And it does. It brings people together. I feel it in the street where I live and around me in general. There’s more humility, more friendliness between people. In a way it’s sad that it takes something so awful as what’s been going on to make that happen. So when it comes to expressing some form of creativity it provides a climate where you’re able to let off that steam but in a positive manner.
Have you started thinking about making a sixth Ride album?
MG: I’ve not had to chance to think about anything else right now because we’ve been so in the midst of putting this record out. It’s been pretty full on and I think it will be for the rest of the year with the tour schedule to promote the album. That’s going to be our focus for a while but I also think around that, as we’ve always done, we’ll be writing bits here and there. Orbiting around that zone and looking through the window at what’s going on outside which is what tends to creep into our songs. I heard Radiohead say a similar thing on the radio the other day. You start becoming a bit detached from humanity when you start living like this again.
When the band first got back together, did you envisage we’d be sat here three years down the line talking about touring a new album?
MG: I didn’t, but not because I didn’t want to. It was more about not wanting to look that far ahead on anything any more. You see something and think that’s what we should be doing but then you end up not enjoying the moment while raising your hopes so high it can only end in disappointment. So I’m just pleasantly surprised by everything we’ve achieved since getting back together. I’m enjoying the moment right now and not thinking too much beyond that. I’m confident that will lead to us doing more stuff, but I can’t say whether that will definitely happen or not.
Weather Diaries is out now via Wichita Recordings. For more information on Ride, including full tour dates and where to purchase tickets, visit their official website.